Post-Revolutionary Mexico: 1920-Present Mexico During the 1920s

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Post-Revolutionary Mexico: 1920-Present

Mexico During the 1920s

  • After Carranza’s term as president ended in 1920, Álvaro Obregón assumed the presidency

  • Under Obregón, the Mexican state enacted a number of policies to improve education (social progress) in Mexico  creation of the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) and expansion of educational opportunity for more Mexicans

  • After Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles was elected president in 1924

Mexico During the 1920s

  • Under Calles, the Mexican government increasingly became institutionalized  origins of the PRI

  • Mexico was being rebuilt by new national institutions (such as the national bank, national irrigation and road commissions, etc.) created and overseen by the Mexican state

  • Calles increased the authority of the federal executive (the president) and the central government  Calles also enforced many of the articles of the 1917 constitution

The Cristero Rebellion

  • Calles’s enforcement of the 1917 Constitution caused bitterness on the part of the Catholic Church  the Church was bitter with the state’s enforcement of secular education and the expropriation of Church property for the public good

  • In 1926, with the support of rural peasants, the Church rebelled against the state  the Cristero Rebellion was fought in the name of Christ, as the enforcement of the 1917 Constitution was considered a direct affront on the Church and thus Christ

The Cristero Rebellion

  • The Mexican state responded by ordering state governors to expel priests, to close churches and religious schools

  • After three years of intense fighting (the rebellion had spread to 13 Mexican states), both the Cristeros (the Church) and the government reached a diplomatic agreement in 1929  the Church agreed to adhere to the 1917 Constitution and the state agreed to reduce its intervention in the internal affairs of the Church

Mexico in the 1920s

  • The no re-election principle of the constitution (Article 83) resulted in a plethora of political parties  in 1928, Calles created the National Revolutionary Party (PNR)

  • The PNR “was intended to control political events on the national level while recognizing the autonomy of local [municipal] parties” (Mexico: A Brief History, pg. 247)  the PNR, then, was the official political party of the Revolution (and the precursor to the PRI)

  • The PNR, therefore, became the dominant political party in Mexico because it allowed local municipios to maintain their autonomy and internal orgainzation  the support of municipos throughout Mexico gave the PNR its political dominance

Mexico in the 1930s

  • During the 1930s, the Mexican state (represented by the PNR) increased land distribution to Mexican peasants  land was distributed because of an increasing unemployment rate, the needs of rural and peasant Mexicans, and for political interests or consideration

  • The 1930s also saw the election of one of the most popular and revered Mexican presidents, Lázaro Cárdenas

Lázaro Cárdenas

  • Cárdenas was born in 1895 to a working-class family in Michoacán

  • In 1913, Cárdenas joined the insurgency against the Huerta dictatorship

  • After the Mexican Revolution, Cárdenas ran for political office and became governor of his home state of Michoacán from 1928-1932

  • In 1934, Cárdenas was selected as the PNR’s presidential candidate and won the presidency


  • As president, Cárdenas would continue the PNR’s policy of land distribution, but to a much greater extent  Cárdenas distributed more land than any other president in Mexican history

  • Cárdenas increased state spending on education  increase in literacy

  • Cárdenas also continued the policy of institutionalizing the Mexican infrastructure  Cárdenas nationalized agricultural lands, railroads, and in 1938, he nationalized Mexican petroleum (PEMEX)

  • For many Mexicans, Cárdenas’s efforts as president exemplified the ideals or principles of the Revolution (social progress, enforcement of the constitution)


  • Although then and now, Mexicans view Cárdenas’s presidency as successful and in line with the principles of the Revolution, his time in office contributed to the growing strength of the Mexican executive

  • Both the judicial and legislative branches conceded their authority to the executive for the best interest of the nation  the origins of the Mexican authoritarian president

Creation of the PRM, the PAN, and the PRI

  • Because the Mexican state had institutionalized many sectors of the Republic, in 1938 the state created a new political party, which would replace the PNR, that could better manage these national institutions  the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM) represented four sectors of the Mexican society: peasants, laborers, the middle-class, and the military

  • The PRM preserved the Mexican state’s monopoly over the Mexican infrastructure and increased its support throughout Mexico  the PRM was the dominant political party in Mexico

Creation of the PRM, the PAN, and the PRI

  • Despite the dominance of the PRM, a significant opposition party was created in 1939  the National Action Party (PAN) was “founded by businessmen who promoted free enterprise… [and was] organized in opposition to the government’s corporatism [PRM]” (Mexico: A Brief History, pg. 263)

  • Despite opposing the PRM, the PAN never gained enough support in Mexico to significantly challenge the political dominance of the PRM

  • In 1946, the PRM was changed to the Institutional Party of the Revolution (PRI), thus solidifying the notion that the progress and growth of the nation depended on the institutional state  the PRI would remain the dominant political party in Mexico until the year 2000

Mexico from 1940-1970

  • Although the Great Depression of the United States had tremendous negative financial impact worldwide, the Depression forced Mexico to become self-sufficient during the 1930s and 1940s  Mexico could no longer depend on the declining international market and was forced to turn inward and develop its domestic market

  • In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Mexico developed various domestic sectors (such as agriculture, industry, mining and petroleum)  the Mexican nation as a whole also developed

  • The outbreak of WWII also contributed to Mexico’s development as the Allied Powers (especially the U.S.) relied on Mexican petroleum, mineral resources, and labor  the positive inclusion and perception of Mexico in the international market

  • This internal development occurred under the auspices of the president and the federal government

The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

The Mexican Miracle

  • “The three decades between 1940 and 1970 have been called the period of the Mexican miracle, when the country underwent the transformations that would give it its contemporary features. During this period Mexico changed from a predominantly rural country to one with urban and industrial characteristics, and the government responded to a demographic explosion with expanded educational and cultural programs. This unprecedented growth gave rise to unrestrained presidentialism and uncompensated federalism that tended to absorb and overshadow the powers assigned to the states.” (Mexico: A Brief History, pg. 266)

The Authoritarian State: 1968

  • In 1968, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz was in the middle of his unpopular and controversial presidential term  early in his term, Díaz Ordaz and the PRI were accused of tampering with federal and state electoral results

  • Mexico (Mexico City) would host the 1968 Summer Olympics  the first time that an “underdeveloped” or “third-world” country would host the Olympic Games

  • Díaz Ordaz and the Mexican state saw the Olympics as a stage on which they could demonstrate the modernity of Mexico to the world  the Olympics was a stage where the Mexican state could take credit for the progress and development in Mexico


  • To that end, the state went to great lengths to promote Mexican culture and undertook large construction progress in the capital  the Mexico City Metro system was one such undertaking

  • The late 1960s was also a period of student unrest in Mexico  students throughout Mexico protested against the increasing authoritarian nature of the Mexican state

  • Students also protested against the government for its lack of spending and reduction of funds to universities and the Mexican government’s intrusiveness in university matters

1968 Student Protests

  • As student protests grew in intensity and disruptiveness, the federal government took action  the state began to (forcibly) suppress student protests throughout Mexico  the government was concerned that these student protests would blemish Mexico’s international image

  • In July 1968, the Mexican government violently suppressed a fight between rival schools in Mexico City  beginning of the 1968 student movement

1968 Student Movement

  • After the violence displayed by the Mexican state, students from UNAM and and the National Polytechnic Institute organized a universal student movement protesting the actions, the authoritarian nature of the government, and a return to the true principles of the 1917 Constitution which the government had corrupted

  • On August 27, 1968, the university students organized a huge rally and protest  over 500K people marched from CU (University City) in southern Mexico City to the Zócalo  the largest public demonstration in Mexican history

  • As the student protests continued throughout August and September the Mexican state became increasingly disconcerted with the disruptiveness of the student movement and its (negative) publicity

  • The student movement also gave birth to Mexican rock music  El Trí was created around this period (orginally called “Three Souls in my Mind”)

Tlatelolco: La Nueva Noche Triste

  • As the student movement grew, so did the government’s efforts to forcibly suppress it  the federal army occupied the campus of UNAM, resulting in more student protests

  • On October 2, 1968, tensions came to a head:

  • University students planned for a small demonstration and rally in la plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco  the rally was relatively small (about 5K), but many of the people in the plaza were residents in the local apartment complexes

  • The Mexican government caught wind of the student demonstration and sent the national army to the plaza

  • Chaos soon erupted in the Plaza  accounts differ, but the army opened fire on the unarmed students

  • For many Mexicans, the events of Oct. 2, 1968 are known as la nueva Noche Triste  the events were also evidence that the Mexican government was extremely authoritarian and created large popular distrust of the government

Mexico since 1968

  • Since 1968, the Mexican people have viewed the Mexican government with circumspect eyes and with great distrust  an increase in popular support of other Mexican political parties, particularly the PAN and the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution)  the political dominance of the PRI gradually declined

  • After the Mexican miracle (1940-1970), the growth of the Mexican economy slowed down  in the 1980s, Mexico experienced a severe economic depression in which the Mexican peso was extremely devalued

  • The 8.0 Mexico City earthquake on September 19, 1985 resulted in not only tremendous loss of life (over 10K died) but also caused billions of dollars in damage

Mexico since 1968

  • After 1968, the international border between the United States and Mexico has grown in historical significance

  • Immigration: Mexicans have been immigrating into the U.S. (either legally or illegally) since 1848  transmission of Mexican culture across the border and an increase of American xenophobia

  • The creation of foreign and American maquiladoras along the Mexican border  poor working conditions for Mexican maquila workers and severe ecological and environmental damage

  • Drug trafficking across the border

Mexico in the 1990s: NAFTA

  • In an attempt to offset the economic difficulties of the 1980s, in 1994 Mexico entered into NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) with the U.S. and Canada  NAFTA allowed for increased foreign investment in Mexico and reduced the Mexican states’ control over the country’s infrastructure  in short, NAFTA improved Mexico’s economy

Mexico in the 1990s: Zapatistas in Chiapas

  • Also in 1994, an armed uprising took place in the state of Chiapas

  • The armed rebels were part of the EZLN (the Zapatista National Liberation Army) and were led by a man who simply called himself Sub-Comandante Marcos (sub-commander Marcos)

  • The Zapatistas in Chiapas rebelled against the government, blaming the poverty of Chiapas on the state’s neglect

2000: Fox, PAN, and the end of one party dominance

  • In 2000, the Mexican populace elected the PAN candidate Vicente Fox as president  the PAN’s victory marked the end of the PRI’s one party dominance in Mexican politics

  • The victory of Fox served to restore some faith of the Mexican people in the federal government

  • Nevertheless, the victory of the PAN created increased tensions and bickering between the three big political parties in Mexico: PAN, PRD, and the PRI

2006: PAN vs. PRD, Calderón and Obrador

  • In the 2006 presidential race, the two leading candidates were Felipe Calderón from the PAN and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD

  • The election of July 2, 2006 was the closest in Mexican history: over 41 million Mexicans voted, and Calderón won by less than a percentage point (official numbers: 35.89% to 35.31%)

  • Because Calderón had won the election by the slimmest of margins, Obrador and his supporters believed that the election results were tampered with

2006: PAN vs. PRD, Calderón and Obrador

  • Obrador and his supporters demanded that the election ballots be re-tabulated by an independent third-party to guarantee the legitimacy of the results

  • As the votes were being recounted, Obrador and his supporters camped out and made public demonstrations in downtown Mexico City

  • On September 5, the independent third party officially declared Calderón the winner of the presidential elections

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